Hans and Stephanie Michel entered the 2018 Taranaki Ballance Farm Environment Awards because they got “talked into it”, says Hans with a smile. “We wanted to benchmark ourselves and see if we were on the right track.”
The couple have a 240ha grazing operation at Tarata, Inglewood, split over two blocks. They saw grazing as an affordable way to start farming as no capital was required apart from land, fencing and water troughs.
They now own the 50 carry over cows, which they graze through winter, putting them back in calf then selling them on.
Sheep is their bread and butter business though and they have 700 Wiltshire ewes. It’s a breed that self-sheds so does not need to be sheared, dipped or crutched and they sell them as breeding stock.
They also run 20 beef cows of their own, which they calve then keep their offspring to fatten. They graze around 160 heifers for other farmers.
Hans grew up on a farm in Switzerland in the mountains but trained as a builder. He met German born Stephanie, a photographer, while travelling.
Hans had travelled to New Zealand previously so when they started thinking about farming he saw it as the place to go and they made the move in 1998.
The couple are focused on farming sustainably, which saw them reach the finals of the 2018 Taranaki Balance Awards and has seen them previously win a Taranaki Regional Council environmental leadership award in 2015.
Sustainability is a lifestyle and they have a small orchard with the fruit used for them, bartering or for pig food. They grow all their own vegetables and have a tunnel house for tomatoes, capsicums, rock melons etc.
They both work together on their farm and have gifted 7ha or the steeper parts of their land to the QEII National Trust, which aims to protect natural and cultural heritage sites.
They have also worked closely with the South Taranaki and Regional Erosion Support Scheme building four dams to act as silt and sediment traps and planting trees.
The scheme supports soil conservation projects that will reduce the risk of accelerated erosion in the hill country and the subsequent sediment that ends up in waterways and the marine environment.
Other environmentally friendly practices include recycling plastic silage wrap, applying lime to lift ph levels of soil rather than urea and minimising use of water soluble fertilisers using reactive phosphate rock instead which is less likely to leach in the high rainfall area.
They spot spray weeds (thistle and ragwort) rather than aerial spraying and even the sheep breed they have selected was with an eye to the environment as Wiltshires require lower chemical inputs as they do not need dipping a gainst flystrike and very little drenching etc.
It’s about considering environmental impact in every aspect of the operation large and small.
They have put solar panels on their house and building a micro power scheme nearby which has seen an old washing machine transformed into a power generator.
It will produce electricity generating from water movement in the creek. The couple has four children: Martin, 21, Kira, 18, Olivia, 16 and Sonja, 14.
“We do what we do because we believe in it,” says Hans. “It’s about trying to farm as sustainably as possible because that’s best for the future.”
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